THERE WAS a fine turnout The Crane Bar last Saturday afternoon for the launch of Dimitra Xidous’s debut poetry collection, Keeping Bees, published by Doire Press.
The launch was officially performed by city arts officer, James C Harrold who provided a typically eloquent introduction to Xidous’s work. The poet herself read a selection from her book to the delight of all present.
Xidous is a Canadian of Greek parentage who is currently living in Dublin. Her poems have appeared in Irish, Canadian, and American literary journals, and she is the featured poet in the current issue of The Stinging Fly. With Patrick Chapman she co-founded and co-edits The Pickled Body, a quarterly poetry and art magazine.
The poems in Keeping Bees are vivid and visceral, sensual and sexy, holy and profane. They are suffused with a zestful physicality whether Xidous is describing eating peaches, figs or tomatoes, or the raw desire and delight of lovers together. These lines from ‘Sweet Morag’ give a flavour of the work:
I love to watch you
Undress. Like a flower
showing off in the sun,
you stretch yourself out
and there, lingering
beyond the petals
of your hands and feet,
a stamen to court bees.
But I am no queen
and that hum
between my legs
is no hive; it is
wilder than that.
Xidous grew up in Ottawa but retains special memories of three years her family spent in Greece, starting when she was nine.
“That experience was incredible for me in terms of my upbringing,” Xidous tells me. “To be able to be, in the space where your parents are from, I got to meet cousins and grandparents. I have wonderful vivid memories of that time. Greek also has an influence on my writing even though I write in English. The Greek language is structured around the masculine and feminine and I have always seen the world through that lens and a lot of that is in my writing.”
Her Greek roots inform a number of the poems in Keeping Bees, but as its title suggests, bees are a recurrent motif. In this Xidous is following an august literary lineage as other poets who have written about bees include Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Pablo Neruda, and Osip Mandelstam.
While her father was a beekeeper, Xidous admits the prominence of bees in the book was as much down to happenstance as design.
“I don’t know where the bees came from, it was kind of accidental,” she says, “but I found myself keep going back to them and finding ways to put them in the work. Bees are hard workers, they embody a wonderful cycle of life when you think about them, and all the other things that rely on them. I also remember, when I was little, the reason my father came to Canada was to work as a beekeeper. I remember him telling me he really enjoyed working with bees. When I realised bees were all over the collection, it was about a year ago, and I thought ‘obviously this is important’.”
So how did this Canadian-born, Dublin-based poet hook up with West of Ireland publishers Doire Press?
“In November 2012 I was at a writers festival in Sligo and John and Lisa from Doire Press were there,” Xidou replies. “I got chatting to him and showed him a chapbook of 10 of my poems. I met them several times over the following months and they always said they liked my poetry. After John told me it three times I asked would he like to see a manuscript. So I sent it in and they replied that they would be happy to publish it and I’m delighted that they did.”
Xidous’s poetry has been likened to the spiritual-erotic quality of her famous Canadian compatriot Leonard Cohen and a favourite memory of hers was the day she met him while shopping.
“It was in 2008, he had just started touring and I was in Toronto to see his show,” she says. “I went into a shop to get hair gel and as I was walking to the cash register I noticed this old man at the end of one of the aisles. The closer I got the more convinced I was it was Leonard Cohen. So I asked him ‘Are you Leonard Cohen?’ and in that unmistakable voice he replied ‘Yes, I am’. All I could say was ‘I can’t believe it’s you! I was just getting gel to do my hair for the show tonight!’
“It was incredible, I talked to him for two minutes and managed to get my photograph with him, he put his arm around me, it was wonderful. He was really lovely. I had no capacity to have a proper conversation with him I was so excited, I couldn’t even tell him I’m a poet! When I went up to pay for the gel and took out my money it was shaking in my hand.”
Perhaps she can now send Mr Cohen a copy of Keeping Bees? I’m sure he would approve. It is available from all good book stores for €12.